Since I regrettably am not a hockey fanatic, I cannot spend my time dissecting each team like I did for NBA. The difference between the two leagues is NBA players are well-known while the NHL has more of a team nucleus.
Even fanatics don't know the third line defense man (for a team other than their own). Instead, I will write a paragraph about each team, mostly their star players and their style (offensive team or defensive or fantastic goalie).
First of all, I did my homework on these teams. So yes, Sidney Crosby is on fire right now. It doesn't take a genius to figure out scoring 12 goals in 13 games is nothing short of amazing. Not only is he scoring goals, but he has also dished 10 assists in the series. All in all, he has accounted for 22 of 48 goals for the Penguins.
Evgeni Malkin is no slouch either of course. Along with his seven goals, he has racked up 14 assists as well. It's a big deal that two players on the same team account for 90 percent of their teams' goals, right?
The other factor is goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. He needs to be as good, if not better, than Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals and Game 1 against the Hurricanes. He was mediocre at best before those two performances. It really shouldn't be a surprise that when he allows three goals or less, he has a 9-2 record. When he allows more than three goals, he has a 0-3 record. So if he allows three goals or less, than Pittsburgh has a good shot with the offense they have.
First off, I have to mention the biggest surprise thus far in the playoffs is Jussi Jokinen. Did anybody know he needs just one goal to tie the amount he had in the regular season?. He had seven goals in 2008-2009 season. He has six in the playoffs so far. So right off the bat, there is one reason for their surprise run.
Cam Ward has been inexplicably on fire as well for the Hurricanes. He may be 8-7, but he only has a 2.22 GAA. He has five games in which he has allowed one goal or less (one in which he lost). He also recorded two shutouts.
Now, Carolina has a clear objective heading into this series.
First off, all seven games they lost, Carolina failed to reach three goals. Only once did they win when scoring less than that. Other than Jokinen, Eric Staal (9 goals, 4 assists) has been the only primary scorer.
Tuomo Ruutu has largely been a disappointment for them. He scored 26 goals with 28 assists in the season. However, he has just 1 goal and 3 assists the entire playoffs. Since they aren't an offensive team, they need all their scorers to score.
When I first thought who would win, I immediately thought Pens for obvious reasons. I looked at the teams and their players and guess who I think know: PITTSBURGH. Carolina's run is over now that they run into a scoring machine (Penguins, not Crosby) with a hot goaltender. I just don't think Carolina can win in a shooting match with Pittsburgh and that's what they'll have to do.
Prediction- Penguins win in five games
Western Conference Finals
The Blackhawks are built on a nucleus of Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews. Neither has disappointed so far in the playoffs. Kane has 8 goals and 4 assists while Toews has 4 goals and 6 assists. Not Crosby-like, but still very good especially for young 20-year-old inexperienced in the playoffs.
Martin Havlat has also produced after a good season with 5 goals and 8 assists. Defenseman Brian Campbell has produced as well with 2 goals and 7 assists. Blackhawks have made it this far because no one has choked, so to speak. What I mean is everyone is producing like they did in the regular season. Goalie Nikolai Khabibulin has been slightly above his usual performance with his 2.33 GAA. Now I am starting to understand the theme of the playoffs: good goaltending= success.
The blueprint for the Red Wings has been to stack their farm system and have the players step up their performance. They are the Pittsburgh Steelers of hockey. Good example: Johan Franzen.
His goals have risen over the last three years despite his playing time: 10, 27, 34. Now he is leading the Wings in goals, assists, amend points in the playoffs.
Henrik Zetterberg has 7 goals and 9 assists. Nicklas Lidstrom has 3 goals, 8 assists. Their "suspect" goalie Chris Osgood has a 2.06 GAA and has allowed two goals or less in nine games. I'm thinking Red Wings offense can handle that.
No way can I not predict the machine that is the Detroit Red Wings. They are the example which every hockey team is looking to follow. Salary cap or no salary cap they have been a dominant force. They have mastered the salary cap and they pick players who not only perform but play brilliantly in the playoffs.
Prediction- Red Wings win in six games